Tibidabo Church, a spectacular mountaintop temple

Among the most surprising religious buildings in Barcelona is the Tibidabo church, officially called the Expiatory Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is located at the top of Mount Tibidabo, the highest peak in Sierra de Collserola. From here you can enjoy the incredible views of the city thanks to the 516 metres above sea level on which the Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart is placed.

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It is a work by the architect Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia, started in 1906 and completed by his son Josep Maria Sagnier i Vidal in 1961. Thus, the temple is made up of neo-Byzantine, neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic elements. It has been declared a Cultural Interest Site and includes a crypt in the lower part and the church in the upper part. Next to the Tibidabo church is the Tibidabo Amusement Park, so a visit to the mount will please both adults and children.

Why build a temple on Mount Tibidabo?

It is somewhat curious to build a temple on top of a mountain, in this case on Mount Tibidabo. At the end of the 19th century the idea of building a Catholic temple in this area was already being considered, which was the moment when the surrounding area began to be urbanised as a project of the businessman Salvador Andreu. As it was situated at a high altitude, a tram was arranged in the avenue as well as a funicular that climbed to the top of Tibidabo. Later, the Tibidabo Amusement Park was built. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tibidabo Avenue was opened and houses were built for members of Barcelona’s upper class.

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The project of the Catholic temple was finally carried out as a measure to stop the construction of a Protestant church or a hotel-casino there. Thus, the Board of Catholic Monarchs bought the land. They handed it over to the Italian priest John Bosco (also known to the Salesians as Don Bosco). With him, the idea arose to build a temple dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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Thus, in 1886 a neo-Gothic hermitage was built, supported by the Salesians, the congregation created by John Bosco. The chapel has a square floor plan and is eight metres high. An image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is kept inside.

However, the construction project of the temple complex was delayed until December 1902, when work began, which lasted until 1961. In October of that same year Pope John XXIII granted the temple the title of minor basilica.

Tibidabo Amusement Park | Photo: Shutterstock

Special mention should be made of the Tibidabo Amusement Park, located on the same mount. With an area of 70,000 m2, it is located next to a temple and is one of the best viewpoints of the city of Barcelona, especially from the Giradabo (Ferris wheel). It is the oldest amusement park in use in Spain.

A neo-Gothic temple full of details

Outside, the temple has a kind of fortified enclosure around it made of Montjuïc stone. Above it, the colossal neo-Gothic temple with a double staircase on each side. The complex is divided into a crypt and a church. The crypt is located at the bottom and the church at the top. Above the church, there is a dome crowned with the image of the Sacred Heart. Initially the work was made by the sculptor Frederic Marès, but it was destroyed in 1936. Thus, it was replaced by another one by the sculptor Josep Miret in 1950. Attached to the temple is the hermitage built in 1886.

A crypt covered with mosaics

As explained, the temple is divided into a crypt at the bottom and a church at the top. The crypt was completed in 1911 and was built in a Neo-Byzantine style combining classicist and neo-Gothic elements. To admire the crypt, you must first stop at the façade. There is a richly decorated tympanum with sculptures representing Saint George and Saint James and the Virgin of Mercy, the patron saints of Barcelona, as well as of Catalonia and Spain.

Crypt | Photo: Shutterstock

The façade has three semicircular arches placed on columns. They are inside a large arch decorated with a mosaic of an allegory of Spain’s veneration of the Sacred Heart. Initially, however, another mosaic by Daniel Zuloaga was kept here. It was a representation of the Holy Trinity, but was destroyed during the Civil War.

Crypt interior | Photo: Shutterstock

Inside the crypt, the space is made up of five naves separated by columns. The vaults and walls of the crypt are covered with alabaster or have a mosaic decoration. The scenes narrated here are related to the dedication of the altars and the personal history of the basilica. Through the crypt you can access the chapel of Perpetual Adoration. It is a chapel that dates from 1940 and was carved out of the same mountain.

The church and its characteristic style

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The church at the top of the temple was completed in 1951. However, the towers were built later so the work was not completed until 1961. Made of blue-grey stone, the building has a central tower of considerable size and four lower ones where sculptures of the twelve apostles were placed.

Church facade | Photo: Shutterstock

The main facade has three apses. In the central one is the figure of the archangel Michael. In the upper pediment is the figure of St. John Bosco. In addition, in the left door can be seen the statue of Saint Teresa of Jesus and in the right door the statue of Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque.

Finally, the interior of the Tibidabo church is divided into three naves. They are complemented by stained glass windows, semicircular apses and four rose windows that can be seen on the facades. The large crucifix on the high altar is one of the most outstanding elements.

Crowning the temple, the sculpture of the Sacred Heart

The story of the sculpture that presides over the temple is really interesting. The original sculpture was completed in 1935. It was eight metres high, making it the largest sculpture in Spain at the time. Before it was placed on the dome of the temple, the Spanish Civil War erupted and in 1936 it was melted down to make war material.

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When the war was over, Salesians built a replica of the original sculpture. This time seven and a half metres long. At first it was placed on the terrace of the temple, but it was moved to the top in 1961. The image of Jesus shows the robe open to show his heart. His arms are extended as a sign of protection to the city of Barcelona.

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